Thursday, August 08, 2013

And that's precisely my point

Being quoted by the press always creates an out-of-body experience, and I'm rather used to it. They never quite get it right, and invariably you are shoved into a camp of opinion that is not precise.

So it has been with the Religion News Service article on how traditionalists are uncomfortable with Pope Francis. It's been printed in dozens of places, including the Washington Post and the National Catholic Reporter.

The thesis is that the right is unhappy for supposedly having been tossed out as the controlling force for the papacy. This is an ironic thesis giving that the quotation they used from me is from a blog post in which I specifically took issue with the attempt to politicize the papacy.

My point was that the press can't seem to shake the template that Benedict XVI was a right-wing ogre (not true) whereas Pope Francis is a humanitarian proto-hippy (not true). The article itself and its approach makes the very point I was trying to highlight, just how simplistic and manipulative these accounts truly are.

The money quote in the published article from me in this post:
“I’ve personally found many aspects of this papacy to be annoying, and struggled against that feeling from the beginning. I’m hardly alone in this,” Jeffrey Tucker, editor of the New Liturgical Movement blog, wrote as Francis basked in the glow of media coverage of his recent trip to Brazil.

“Every day and in every way we are being told how glorious it is that the bad old days are gone and the new good days are here,” he lamented.

Tucker and other traditionalists who are dedicated to high church rituals have been especially miffed at Francis’ simple — they might say simplistic — style since the moment the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was introduced to the world as the new pope back in March.

There you go. You can see why the RNS is quoting this. The editor of NLM is annoyed at the papacy! I'm just over here grumbling and complaining even as the rest of the world cheers, and this only underscores how out of touch we "traditionalists" are. And, therefore, that's all the more reason why the Catholic left -- in the epic struggle with the right -- should cheer.

Talk about simplistic!

Now, anyone who knows my writing knows that I avoid these labels. For my part, I'm not entirely unhappy to call myself a Catholic liberal in the 19th century sense of Cardinal Newman or Lord Acton. Actually I think that's the best description and the only one that seems historically accurate. I also don't mind progressive since I burn with the desire to progress beyond the 1970s where parish liturgy seems permanently to dwell. And although I fight this designation, the term traditionalist tends to be attached to people who favor chant and attention to liturgical books will always be described that way. As for my own political outlook, which are solidly in the anti-nation statist and anarchist tradition of the late scholastics of the Renaissance, really have nothing to do with this at all, though it it understandable that people might bring that up.

Here is what I actually wrote in my original post, and you will see why none of this was quoted:
What is extremely tricky here -- and it becomes nearly a full-time job for watchers of Church issues -- is to somehow separate the press spin from the reality. That is not always easy.

The press is lazy. There's not a great deal of depth or historical context there. Also, the press needs to sell newspapers and click throughs. To do this, it is best to have a narrative. Everything that happens has to fit into the narrative. The narrative begins in the first hours of the papacy and it tends to stick. (It's not just Catholic news that is treated this way; this is how the so-called news works in every sector.)

The narrative of Benedict XVI was that he was a closed-minded reactionary dedicated to cracking down and turning back the clock. After that, nothing else mattered. It didn't matter how much he reached out, how much he liberalized the ritual, how much he displayed openness, praised religious freedom, called for social justice and the like. The narrative stuck.

So it has been with Francis. The press decided early on that he is humble, spontaneous, liberal, broad, pro-poor, tolerant, and ready to revise doctrine. After that, the fix was in. Everything he does is interpreted in that light. Every headline presumes that underlying template. It's the only story. Everything that contradicts that is thrown out, and every utterance is framed in that preset context.

So, remember this, my friends. There is a lens. It is manufactured by the industry that writes that story. It probably will not change for the duration. That's why this is going to be such a long and bumpy ride.

The only way to fight back against this is to think independently. Don't let the press control your understanding and interpretation of this papacy. Look for context, full quotes, mitigating factors, hidden details, accurate translations, and the like. I know this sounds like a slog and it is. But it is essential if we are to see what is true.

In many ways, I feel bad for Pope Francis. He is no more allowed to escape this spin that we are. Just remember that he doesn't write the stories, and he didn't set out to design this template for himself. It's not even clear that he knows that this is happening or what he could do about it if he did.
In other words, the post itself helps explain how goofy such press stories really are. A careful reader would notice that the source of my annoyance is not the Pope as such but the treatment of the papacy by the media -- an example of which is nicely offered up by this article itself.

To be sure, there are aspects of this Papacy's liturgical style that I would like to see improved but, in saying that, we have to remember that his predecessor worked extremely hard in this precise area and made enormous progress. The new Pope is comparatively less interested in liturgy than in evangelism -- and who am I to say which is the more important priority? Each new papacy is not a blank slate, some kind of revolution which provides marching orders to us all. Each builds on the last in a living way through real history. Benedict's legacy lives even as Francis works out a new history.

But that distinction is pretty well lost on the reporters who stick to the existing template no matter what. Therefore, I am who they say I am and Francis is who they say he is. I've seen it too many times to be upset by it or take any of it very seriously.